What does it say about me if my boyfriend wants to sleep with other people? What the fuck is wrong with me that he can’t be with just me?
I’m madly in love with my boyfriend, but I hate our relationship. With every sacrifice I make, I’m starting to hate myself a little more, too. For a little over a year we’ve been in a non-monogamous relationship. Open relationships aren’t new to the gay community but they’re new to me. I’ve always preferred to be with just one guy while in a relationship, but that sort of commitment really puts my boyfriend on edge. We’ve tried being in a traditional relationship and something changed in him; there was something about him that I didn’t like. He wasn’t happy, and was constantly stressing and paranoid about not cheating on me. So I decided to go for an open relationship. I didn’t want us to breakup and I wanted to see where things would go. That was a year ago.
So where am I now? Listening to a 2007 Alicia Keys song on repeat for days at a time, trying to understand what it is about me that doesn’t meet his expectations. I want this stubborn man I’m dating to meet me halfway. I want him to keep his sexual behavior to himself. I don’t want to find condom wrappers in his garbage can anymore. I don’t want to see his Grindr notifications pop-up on his screen. I don’t want to feel like there’s some ominous third person in this relationship all the fucking time. I want him to fuck me and only me. It takes a conscious decision every day for me to stay. I think about us breaking up at least twice a week. Before my own open relationship, whenever a friend would tell me they were getting into one I’d always respond with, ‘I don’t know how you could do it! Not me, never me!’ It’s safe to say that this immediate response had a lot to do with fear of being judged; I still feel this way too. There is so much fear and confusion–dating someone who wants to fuck other people was never part of the birds and bees talk my mother gave me. Ask Polly has yet to write any empowering words about how to handle falling asleep in the same bed your boyfriend fucked someone else in. Every time I snuggle up to him at night, I want this feeling of self-loathing and impending doom to go away. It doesn’t.
The progression of our relationship was like any other normal relationship: casual dating and then wanting more. I asked for exclusivity and he told me he couldn’t give that to me right now. I was okay with that at the time, but I didn’t think he still wouldn’t be able to give it to me after a year. As our open relationship progressed, I began to notice the sacrifices I was making. There were the normal relationship sacrifices like time and money, which didn’t bother me. But it started to get tricky when I began making sacrifices I didn’t believe in. I tried not to get upset when he would text another guy, but a sense of betrayal lingered. It felt like he was inviting someone else into our life together. I tried not to be angry that his bedroom would often smell like sex when I came over, and he would tell me time and time again that the decision to be non-monogamous was about him, that it had nothing to do with me. But that didn’t make it any easier. In fact, it made me believe even more that it was about me. I started to hate myself, and instead of believing him, began thinking about everything that was wrong with me. It felt like when my mother would tell me I’m not mad, I’m disappointed. Except that disappointment is always so much more crushing than anger would be. Now, I feel like a gay adult male who is disappointing my partner by not being able to give him what he needs.
He’ll tell me I am enough, and I’ll nod my head, but I won’t believe it. He’ll tell me he loves me and wants to be with me and I’ll respond, I know. Me too. But deep down I still feel inferior. I don’t trust him not to hurt me. I don’t trust him, because he already does things that he knows hurt me. If I agreed to it, does that make it any better? Am I supposed to sacrifice my own happiness because my boyfriend loves to put his dick in a dancer? I guess I’m supposed to be totally okay that my boyfriend likes to add everyone he’s ever fucked as a friend on Facebook? The worst part is, I’ve become addicted to seeing which skinny, hairless twenty-something he added as a friend this week. The bad dye jobs of boys with my waist size haunt me in my sleep. He says we are in this together, but I don’t believe it. I don’t believe a lot of things about our relationship. I don’t believe him when his phone buzzes at 1 AM and he tells me the unsaved number that just texted him was a work-related issue. I don’t believe that when he says he’s going out with friends that he comes home alone. I hold him so tight at night. I lay in bed and I think about the good things that have come out of this relationship. But I don’t always feel like his arms are the safest place to be. Every fight we have is all about how I feel inferior. I try and talk about it with him and I sound like a broken record.
Still, I decided it’s worth it. This is not currently the relationship I want, but I still believe it could turn into the relationship I crave. Down the line I could have kids with him, we could get a puppy, or get into little fights at Bergdorfs. I let myself dream those dreams. Sure, it really sucks at times, but I tell myself it’s okay to not be this happy, amazing person in my relationship all the fucking time. When I am happy and in love, then I relish it and celebrate it–because it’s not often. But I am no longer the incredible warm person I was on our first date. After a year of insecurity and second-guessing myself I have become a little cold. I’ve also learned that messy, emotional me can be loved by someone even when I am cold and checked out. On one hand, I want nothing but our love to grow and flourish and for us to get to that point where everything we both want is fulfilled. On the other I want to be strong and brave and leave him in Hell’s Kitchen because I’ve realized I deserve more.
So why do I do it? Maybe it’s the people-pleaser in me; I want him to be happy. I know I deserve to be loved, and I am. But I’m not being loved on my terms. I’m not being loved the way I want to be loved. I crave a traditional relationship. I want to be the only one in his bed. Even if we don’t wind up with kids, a dog and dual-income household, I’ll know that I’ve been loved and that I did love. I’ll know that he did his best to give me what I want and I did my best to accept his shortcomings. Maybe I am strong enough to handle what I’ve been given to work with, or maybe I’ll break down and realize I can’t handle how often my mind scours over a list of everything that’s wrong with what we have. Every night I have to talk myself back into this relationship, because if I don’t, I won’t believe what we have is one.
The author has chosen to remain anonymous. Illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus.